Friday, March 22, 2013

Change is Often for the Better

Now, where did I lay that winning Lotto ticket?
Here’s a riddle: what do you get when you pile your mail in the same spot every day for three months straight? My bedroom dresser.
This disorganized approach to sorting, or rather not sorting, mail is unsightly and contributes to my life in quite unproductive ways. Yet I stubbornly (some might say lazily) cling to my inefficient system of mail management. I refuse to change. That is, until I miss paying a bill or something equally traumatic. Then a miraculous thing happens: I change.
What is it about the process of change that makes it hard for a good many people to do so, even when they know it’s in their best interest? From simple acts like sorting the mail to more complex endeavors such as thinking differently about people once you learn the truth about them, change can be vexing.
Change is hard, from the youngest baby to the oldest adult. That notion seems odd in and of itself, yet it is the case so often. Then again, it's probably the most natural thing in the world. It can be unsettling to experience new ways of thinking and being when young, especially when the prospect of failure is present. At the same time, if you're really familiar with something and in the habit of doing it a certain way, it becomes comfortable and predictable. In both cases, change introduces a whole set of unknowns.
But resistance to change can have consequences. I experience this fact somewhat often, despite myself. And it can be counterproductive.
For instance, a few years ago I co-led a summer youth camp. Early on, I observed certain students in certain ways. I considered some troublemakers. I viewed others as cooperative. My resistance to change came when the students I had confidently placed into behavior ‘categories’ flipped the script on me and started behaving in ways counter to what I had initially observed. They had changed. However, I found myself slow to change my own attitude about their attitudes. In other words, I mistakenly took it for granted that the students would never change, despite the evidence in front of my eyes. As a result, my inability to follow their change with my own hindered everyone’s capacity for learning – theirs as students and mine as a budding instructor.
Much better - except I can't find anything
If we’re not careful, we all have the capacity to live our lives as if nothing is changing. But it is. How we face that change says a lot about ourselves. It can be hard and it takes courage. Particularly when it comes to the way we regard people different from us. So many times our reluctance to changing the way we look at something comes into play as a result of our often irrational fear of ‘losing something’ if the change takes place. We can allow our egos to get in the way of moving in more constructive or positive directions. For me at that youth camp, my fear was losing control of the class. But the control I thought I had by holding fast to misguided beliefs was just an illusion.
On reflection, the ability to change and adapt is one of the greatest gifts we possess as human beings. Without change, so many of us are doomed to a limited form of existence. In so many cases, trying to live without changing is stifling. But with it, the sky's the limit. Now if only I can only find that bill I need to pay; it used to be on my bedroom dresser.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Ghost of Snowfalls Past

Snaking a path to the driveway (where the real work begins)
I hate shoveling snow. But I dislike a snow-covered driveway more. So like most folks who clear their own drives, I thought that last snow storm was a beast. We didn’t get a ton but the flakes were wet and heavy. You couldn’t just push it off the driveway; you had to wrestle with it a shovelful at a time. I was out of town when it fell but on my return, the plows had already cleared the streets. So of course that meant the front of my drive was packed with an even denser mound of snow. The phrase ‘back-breaking’ came to mind when I first saw it. It also reminded me of how snowfall was in the old days, out there as a kid with my dad. What happened next was textbook ‘me.’
It was after 11 p.m. and I suppose most people would have left the job of clearing the drive until the next day. That was not to be. After donning appropriate attire, I went back out and attacked the heavy snow with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, given the long travel day and late hour.
Why didn't I just use a snow thrower? The problem was, aside from the noise at that late hour, the machine I have likes to clog up and I feel like I spend more time clearing the chute than I do the driveway. That’s frustrating too because I hate shoveling. But I'm compelled to do it.
With each shovelful I questioned my sanity. After each scoop I wanted to quit. I wanted to be inside. Where it was warm. Where my back wouldn’t be stressed and hands could be warm.
Instead, I kept going. And that's the puzzling part. I wanted to stop but couldn't. What is it that keeps a person doing a thing they don't necessarily like? What compels them to see it through? Especially when it’s something that can wait? I don’t consider myself an overachiever and don’t think I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. So I wonder if it had anything to do with my father?
Haunting midnight snowfall
I remember as a kid growing up how dad always did the drive after a snowfall. He never waited and he never complained. At least not that I heard. When I’d go out to help, I would always be amazed by his strength, speed and endurance when it came to clearing the snow. I recall always being in awe. I also remember thinking I’d never be able to measure up to him when came to clearing the driveway and doing other things around the house. (Don’t get me started on his skills when it came to clearing leaves in the fall…)
Anyway, I know for sure that one motivating force for keeping the driveway clear is that it helps keep me in shape. And while shoveling isn’t the best form of exercise (it’ll wreck your back if you're not careful), I use it to supplement my workout routine. Dad didn’t have a gym membership. Maybe shoveling and yard work was his sports center.
As I think about it, maybe dad really is why I hold such an obsession for clearing the driveway after a snowfall. Could it be I'm trying to live up to his legacy? Such a juvenile thing to think about, I guess. Dad's been departed from this earth for years now. Yet sometimes I wonder if my going out to do the drive is my way of connecting with a man who instilled in me the often unconscious values I hold and practice as a grown man?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Honor Special Needs Friends and Family with Your Presence

No way for human beings to live

I don’t know about you, but visiting a loved one at a full care nursing facility can be a pretty depressing affair. A significant exception was my most recent stopover at one. In this case it was to see one of my favorite aunts. For the very last time.
               Spending time at one of those places can be challenging for me, not so much because the person I’m seeing has to be there. I came to terms with the cycle of life and need for such places long ago. Instead, the troubling part is wading the gauntlet of aged men and women confined to wheelchairs and beds who receive few to no visitors. No friends, no family. It’s pathetic that so many infirmed parents are just left (dare I say it: abandoned) there.
               In my aunt’s case, her family visited every day. I’m not sure if it was planned or it just worked out that way, but in either case, she was bookended with regular morning and evening visits.
My Aunt Millie was on the last page of her life when I saw her. Although she was not generally responding to the outside world, I was fairly sure that if she was not sleeping, she had within her an awareness of her surroundings and the people nearby.
               I was close to my aunt in the sense that, as a child, she was an influential figure in my life. And although we didn’t see each other every day during my formative years, she held sway over me in ways an older person can touch a younger person through random acts of kindness.
It’s not that she impacted my life in king-sized ways – like saving me from drowning or raising me as a child or giving me a rocket ship for Christmas. Instead, it was quite simply her love. I liken her ever-present affection to the way something cooks in a crockpot; simmering and steady over time.
Strive to be a present help
               Mom and I had to travel 4 ½ hours to visit her sister, my aunt. That put a strain on mom’s retirement age body, and my business schedule. But we made the trip as often as we could. Over time, Aunt Millie became less and less responsive. The dementia that affected her grew until she finally became largely unresponsive. When we arrived for what we believed would most likely be our last opportunity to visit, her daughters and sons were all there, save one.
               Years ago I had seen my father pass, quite literally in front of my eyes. So when I laid eyes on my aunt, I knew she was not long for this world. But that was okay. At least to me. She had lived a long and (from my perspective) impactful life. Although she was physically close to transitioning from this world, to me she looked beautiful. Maybe ‘looked’ isn’t as accurate a word as ‘felt.’ She seemed at peace, which put me in the same frame of mind.
               I watched as family members held Aunt Millie’s hand and said whatever was in their heart. When it was my turn I did the same, letting her know in no uncertain terms what she meant to me and the influence she had on my life. Who can say with certainty that my aunt was awake and aware of the special messages we shared with her? That really doesn’t matter as much as our willingness to put ourselves out there and just ‘be’ with her and family. If only more folks would do the same with their mothers, fathers and special needs family members, so that they feel honored and respected. And loved.